We are very lucky here in the Northwest, not just because we have the beautiful counties of Ulster to roam, but our neighboring counties in Connacht, namely Leitrim and Sligo, are also remarkable in their history and culture. Our field trip to this area centered around Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats, for whom Sligo/Leitrim was inspirational, so much so that this area is known as Yeats Country. WB is buried in the churchyard at Drumcliffe, Sligo, which nestles in the shadow of the iconic Ben Bulben mountain.
Our first stop was at the magnificent megalithic court cairn at Creevykeel, County Sligo. This incredible monument lies almost unheeded by the passer-by, yet it is part of a series of fabulous ancient and sacred spaces around Sligo. From Creevykeel, there are views over Mullaghmore head and Donegal Bay to the west, and to the east, the Dartry Mountains, Ben Whisken and Ben Bulben. It was a good opportunity to discuss how this landscape would have influenced Yeats.
Onwards then to Drumcliffe, which was the site of a monastic settlement associated with St. Colm Cille, and still boasts an impressive high cross and the remains of a round tower. The high crosses not only assisted early Christians to understand the scriptures ( we described it as 9th century PowerPoint!) but they are a stunning example of the fusion of Celtic Art with the establishment of Irish Christianity.
Much later, St.Columba's Church was built at the site, ministered at one time by a relative of Yeats. So taken was the poet by the scenic location of the church that he left instructions to be buried there, and so (eventually*) he was. We had a chance to visit the grave and the church- its stunning swan-shaped handles were a gift from the Australian Yeats Society, and we saw the Yeats memorial with the words of the poem "He wishes for the cloths of heaven" carved in stone.
After that, we went into the Glen's of Leitrim, to magical Glencar Waterfall, immortalized in the poem"The Stolen Child". It was here Yeats imagined the faery folk darting about and conspiring and plotting, and when you visit here, you can understand why.
Our final stop was in Sligo, gateway city to Connacht, overlooked by the great Queen Maedb, standing in her tomb on Knocknaree. Cnoc Na Ri, or the royal mountain was said to be Yeats' favourite. Understandably, some of our teens made a beeline for the bookshop, which was selling the latest Harry Potter! Others discovered the glorious retail experience that is Penneys, and some just wandered along the Garavogue River, soaking up the prettiness of Sligo on a summer Sunday afternoon.
We returned for dinner, and a low-key evening of bowling, and early to bed. We have a few very busy days ahead, but today we were the dreamers of dreams.
*this is another story, but we will keep it for the reunion...